Oxygen blast threw paramedic into air and killed OAP (78)
A 78-year-old man was killed after the ambulance he was in burst into flames following an explosion outside a busy Emergency Department.
A multi-agency investigation involving gardai, the Health Safety Authority (HSA) and the HSE has also been launched after what the HSE's Director General Tony O'Brien described as "dark day for the health services".
The tragic incident occurred shortly after 1.30pm yesterday afternoon at Naas General Hospital as the ambulance arrived at the Emergency Department.
Paramedics David Finnegan, aged in his 40s, and Stephen Lloyd, aged in his late 30s, were in the vehicle preparing to move the patient into the ED.
However, as pensioner Christopher Byrne was being tended to, an explosion occurred, killing him and injuring the two emergency services personal.
The force of the blast was so severe that Stephen Lloyd was thrown across the tarmac, having left the drivers seat to open the ambulance side door.
Two Naas-based paramedics who witnessed the incident ran towards the burning ambulance and pulled David Finnegan, who was on fire, from the vehicle.
However, sources said, there was nothing that could be done for the elderly patient in the back of the vehicle.
Mr Lloyd was treated for burns but was discharged yesterday evening, while Mr Finnegan was kept in St James' Hospital as a precaution.
He is expected to make a full recovery.
Four units from the Kildare Fire Service in Naas and Newbridge were called to the scene.
The emergency call was received at 1.33pm and the first unit arrived at the scene at 1.37pm.
HSE Director General Tony O'Brien expressed his sympathies to whom he had spoken with at Naas General Hospital following the tragic incident.
It is believed that an oxygen tank caused the explosion, and the HSE has said that checks will be put in place immediately.
"There is going to be an investigation under way, as is normal practice, by An Garda Siochana and the Health Safety Authority, as well as the HSE, but it does appear the fire started towards the rear of the ambulance," Mr O'Brien said.
"It does not appear to be related to the engine and currently, without prejudicing that outcome, we are currently focusing our concerns on the possibility, and I stress possibility, that this was oxygen-related."
Mr O'Brien said they are confident of a "full recovery" for the ambulance driver who was hospitalised with burns.
"Two members of the ambulance service staff were injured while attempting to save the patient," he said.
"One of those has been discharged from hospital recently and the second staff member has been transferred to St James Hospital in Dublin where he is receiving care.
"We are confident of a full recovery but he will remain in hospital overnight as a precaution.
"I'm sorry to have to tell you that the patient's death was a direct consequence of the fire.
"If the fire had not occurred he would have not died. We express our sympathies with the family."
Mr O'Brien also said that the staff did everything they could.
"In addition, a series of checks are going to be carried out on all National Ambulance Service (NAS) equipment and that process has already been organised.
"This is clearly a very serious incident and I wouldn't want to downplay it in any way."
Health Minister Simon Harris was also at the scene.
"Like all of us, I was numb when I heard about this terrible tragedy," he said.
"I visited the hospital this evening to extend my sympathies to the family on the death of their loved one.
"I also wanted to support the incredible efforts of the staff in Naas General Hospital on what was an extremely difficult and upsetting day and to convey my hope of a full recovery to the injured paramedic staff."
The HSE issued a warning to all ambulance staff yesterday evening in the wake of the incident to check on the oxygen tanks they are carrying to minimise the risk of another incident.
It also directed its supplier to undertake a programme of checks on oxygen in ambulances.
Staff were asked to re-familiarise themselves with the emergency ambulance evacuation procedures.
Managers and staff have been asked to give priority to the safety notice.
An action plan for the ambulance service was drawn up by the HSE earlier this year on foot of a highly critical report.